July 2022

Unradical Radicals

Michael Bettencourt | Scene4 Magazine

Michael Bettencourt

In the May 2022 issue of Vanity Fair, James Pogue writes "Free Radicals," subheaded in this way: "They're not MAGA. They're not Q. They're the intellectual New Right. And they're ready to burn it down."

The subhead is hyperbolic – they say they're ready to burn it down, but they really aren't. They say that shit to garner attention and because they know, thanks to their privilege, that they will never have to soil their hands by manning the barricades. They are rhetorical reactionaries with a taste for wordy pyromania—spoiled brats, really.

Pogue focuses a lot on J.D. (James David) Vance and Curtis Yarvin as the house political theorists who postulate the existence of something called "the regime," described by Pogue, by way of Vance, as "an Ivy League intellectual and management class—a quasi-aristocracy—[out] to adopt a set of economic and cultural interests that directly oppose those of people in places like Middletown, Ohio, where he grew up." Populated, in other words, by people very much like the Yale-educated venture capitalist Vance—but don't say that too loudly.

There is also "the Cathedral," by way of Yarvin, here in Pogues' word: "[L]iberal ideology holds sway in the important institutions of prestige media and academia—an intertwined nexus he calls 'the Cathedral' … an oligarchy of the educated who care more about competing for status within the system than they do about America's national interest."

Their solution is to put a strong man (and it will be a man) in control: "And the way conservatives can actually win in America, [Yarvin] has argued, is for a Caesar-like figure to take power back from this devolved oligarchy and replace it with a monarchical regime run like a start-up. As early as 2012, he proposed the acronym RAGE—Retire All Government Employees—as a shorthand for a first step in the overthrow of the American 'regime.' What we needed, Yarvin thought, was a 'national CEO, [or] what's called a dictator.' Yarvin now shies away from the word dictator and seems to be trying to promote a friendlier face of authoritarianism as the solution to our political warfare: 'If you're going to have a monarchy, it has to be a monarchy of everyone,' he said." (Just to note: a "monarchy of everyone" makes no sense, and what he is talking about is a coup.)

Vance, Yarvin and the rest of the poseurs that Pogue portrays are not really serious about what they say, that is, they are not creating the cells and committees of correspondence and political education classes and all the infrastructure needed to create the revolutionary vanguard because, truth be told, they like the fever dream they've concocted because it feeds their bank accounts, political egos and thirst for influence.

They like to appear as serious intellectuals posing serious questions to trigger serious change, but the only image of a post-regime world that they can come up with is a country run by a dictator where, according to Blake Masters, president of the Thiel Foundation and running for the U.S. Senate in Arizona, stability will be reached by "on-shoring industrial production, slashing legal immigration, regulating big tech companies, and eventually restructuring the economy so that one salary would be enough to raise a family on."

This is not an emancipatory vision of society: it is a nostalgia that American conservatives have always had for a time (usually labeled as the 1950s) when "people of color" and their problems did not exist as such and, according to Vance, "it will mean that my son grows up in a world where his masculinity—his support of his family and his community, his love of his community—is more important than whether he works for fucking McKinsey."

This loss of homogeneity, the grudge they feel about having to cede power to people who have moved in from the margins to take a seat at the table, this yearning for a life where "God's in His heaven— / All's right with the world!"—these seem to be some of the true drivers of their dyspepsia and desire to be dominated by a Caesar while also having the power to Caesar-like dominate others below them.

I find their ideas airless and their sense of grievance ridiculous, and if their "program," if it can be called that, came into being, it would cement in place all the inequities in American society without providing any means to redress them (after all, Caesar is not going to institute direct democracy).

It is ironic that they accuse the Cathedral and the regime of being driven by people who only want to satisfy their own desires for status rather than work for the greater good of the nation, but, of course, they want to do the same thing, just on a different broadcast frequency and for a subset of American citizens who have the proper skin color and who have profited from their privilege without having to apologize for anything.

Pogue states that Vance believes that "our universities are full of people who have a structural, self-serving, and financial interest in coloring American culture as racist and evil." But this sentence could easily be restructured to describe this cohort: "our right-wing mediaverse is full of people who have a structural, self-serving, and financial interest in coloring American culture as white, male, and aggrieved."

They are revolutionaries without any sense of emancipation, radical authoritarians, libertarian Caesarists. The fact that they are taken serious at all is a sign of just how close we are to a precipice that no Caesar can save us from (and, really, what Caesar in his right mind would want to take ownership of this burning house?).

One last thought, sparked by the RAGE nonsense: Michael Lewis' recent work on government employees (The Fifth Risk) and his podcasts about experts. You may think you can gut the government of its workers and still have a functioning polity, but it ain't true. Our well-being relies upon on active government work that is not profit-driven and done for the good of all—that is the armature upon which our democratic society is built: not markets, not stock exchanges, not influencers and political stuntwork but public servants doing subsidized work to build knowledge, process and accountability. I'll take the Deep State any day over the Shallow Seas of the peacocks and pretenders.


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Michael Bettencourt is an essayist and a playwright.
He writes a monthly column and is
a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
Continued thanks to his "prime mate"
and wife, María-Beatriz.
For more of his columns, articles, and media,
check the Archives.

©2022 Michael Bettencourt
©2022 Publication Scene4 Magazine



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